In many of the images spoken of by those given visions of Purgatory, there is fire and sorrow. A terrible thirst. We have been told there are levels in Purgatory which correspond to the seriousness of the sins

          But back then, based on my reading that eventful night, all I knew was about the fire and the sorrow and the thirst. And even that I understood only literally, skimming the surface of understanding. I imagined it to be noisy with weeping and wailing, like many Eastern funerals. Cauldrons of bubbling fire – never mind that that image might have been more at home at a witches’ gathering deep in dark woods.

          Some time after I was taught the importance of praying for the souls in Purgatory, I had a dream one night.

          I saw a world. Hidden. A hushed world, nestled deep within the bosom of peace. It seemed to be narrow. There were levels, linked by rough earthen floors and misshapen clay steps. The place was lit by unseen lamps. A soft, gentle light that bathed the surroundings in tenderness and peace.

          It was crowded. I saw people, oh, so many of them, ascending and descending the clay steps. In peace they took the steps. No jostling. No bumping. But in absolute silence. I didn’t hear or see them speak, but I saw their eyes, and I knew they were brethren, united in love. It was not love for one another; it was a special sort of love. Different.


          I sensed an unseen being showing me around. The steps were to one side of the space I was shown. The rest of the space was occupied by tombs, arranged close to one another. My unseen guide led me past the tombs. In this softly lit place where I felt warmth and comfort, I saw that each tomb was covered with beautiful bouquets of flowers, some more than the others. As I took this in, I assumed that was the order here: flowers for every tomb.

          But he led me down the steps, and everything began to change. I felt the cold first. Then, came the darkness. It was not menacing or evil. I didn’t sense any hatred or wickedness, but there was a deep loneliness and profound sorrow. Gone were the lamps of the higher levels. No light. No warmth. No love.

          And not a soul was to be seen. No people gently navigating the steps. Dark, still, silent, cold.

          I was led on. We stopped at a tomb. Not a single flower adorned its stone slab covering. I felt my guide’s words, This is your (relative’s) tomb. He has been neglected.

          Not merely forgotten but neglected. An act of will to leave the soul without prayers.

          It had been about ten years since he had passed on. Even at his funeral, there was the smug belief among his children that Dad had gone to his heavenly reward. Never missed a day of Mass. Never missed nightly family Rosary. What was that if not a sure ticket to heaven. They didn’t care to dredge up memories of an old but able man who sat in his chair, twiddling thumbs all day. Busy with the paper. Busy with the tv. Who did little, but made footmen and butlers out of everyone else. He rarely stirred up trouble but found the odd occasion to spit at people or fling his plate of food. There was also a hint of an old illicit dalliance in the family annals but details were never revisited.

          God called him back in the midst of the holidays, and while everyone returned to pay obedient homage, there were murmurs at the bier that he could have chosen some other time to die, not pull the curtain down on other people’s fun and rest. I remember watching the group of supposed mourners gather, sitting stiffly in chairs. Not a crowd of them. Not by any means. Most making some effort to arrange their countenance into some semblance of mourning because there was no natural grief at this particular loss of a man who gave nothing to the world.

          We buried him. Later chiseled, Home in Heaven Again as his epitaph.

          Ten years on, he remains in his tomb. Unadorned. Not a petal. Not a prayer. Because we didn’t care enough.



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